Muay Thai Scoring System: How Is Muay Thai Scored? (4 Steps)

Photo by Eric Langley

Are you wondering how the Muay Thai Scoring System Works?

In this article, we’ll explain and simplify how the Muay Thai scoring system works by going through 4 key steps.

How Does the Muay Thai Scoring System Work?

In short, the Muay Thai scoring system works by having fights judged in their entirety rather than round by round. Judges then judge the fight for the winner based on proper technique execution, damage dealt to the opponent, ring, and action dominance, and effective aggression.

With this in mind, there are 4 steps to understanding how Muay Thai is scored, which are:

  1. Muay Thai is scored in its entirety
  2. Judging Criteria
  3. What does and doesn’t score in Muay Thai fights
  4. The unspoken code

Let’s take a closer look at each of the 4 steps.

1. Muay Thai Is Scored in Its Entirety

The first step in understanding how Muay Thai scoring works is to know Muay Thai fights are scored in their entirety. This contrasts with the 10-point must system used in MMA, boxing, and kickboxing, which scores a fight per round and has the winner decided by accumulating the most points.

And while Muay Thai is judged in its entirety, judges use the 10-point must system to score each round as a way to better keep track of the fight. The scores they write are informal and don’t impact the final result, but they’re used alongside the notes they write in order to remember the whole fight.

In Muay Thai, a fighter can hypothetically lose three out of five rounds but still win overall if they were very dominant in the two rounds they won.

So, Muay Thai Fights are scored in their entirety, but what are judges looking for?

2. Judging Criteria

The second step in understanding how the Muay Thai scoring system works is to know what the judges are looking for.

In order of importance, Muay Thai judges look for:

  1. Proper Technique Execution – (Most Significant) 70%
  2. Damage to the Opponent (Moderate Significance) 15%
  3. Ring and Action Dominance (Generalship) – (Less Significant) 10%
  4. Effective Aggression (Least Significant) 5%

Here’s a closer look at each.

1. Proper Technique Execution – (Most Significant) 70%

Muay Thai judges are huge fans of proper technique execution and they score it highly.

This is about throwing strikes with as close to perfect technique as possible and landing accurate and effective strikes. These strikes should land cleanly, powerfully, and visibly hurt the opponent by causing them to wince, lose balance/posture, or become physically exhausted.

Landing a high volume of strikes is scored, but the most important factor is landing effective strikes which affect the opponent. Therefore, knockdowns are the highest scoring as the impact causes the opponent to fall. A knockdown much outweighs the number of strikes landed.

Clean landing strikes which show to have zero effect on a fighter aren’t scored. However, a strike landing both cleanly and powerfully does score, even if the opponent doesn’t look hurt – especially if the opponent doesn’t immediately counter with something equally as impressive.

2. Damage to the Opponent – (Moderate Significance) 15%

This refers to the visible damage a fighter can deal to their opponent. This may be cuts and bruises on the face or bruising on the body and legs. Damage to the opponent is of moderate significance and is judged when fighters are deemed very close on proper technique execution.

Similar to how effective technique execution scores, visible damage can score when it’s seen through the body language of a fighter. This may be wincing or slowing down because of exhaustion or pain in the body as a result of the opponent’s strikes.

Muay Thai judges score powerful strikes as dealing the most damage, so fighters look to land strikes with power and precision rather than in high volume.

3. Ring and Action Dominance (Generalship) – (Less Significant) 10%

Ring and action dominance refers to dictating the flow and pace of a fight, being the fighter who commands the center of the ring, moves forward, pushes the opponent backward, and is generally the dominant fighter in exchanges by also landing more strikes and blocking the opponents.

Muay Thai fights are seen as a test of character, with the fighter showing the most confidence, composure, and character being viewed favorably.

Because of this, moving backward is frowned upon by judges. Not only does it show a lack of ring and action dominance, but it’s also the much less aggressive way to fight and gets this fighter marked down on effective aggression too. Moving backward is essentially showing a weak character.

4. Effective Aggression – (Least Significant) 5%

Effective aggression refers to using Muay Thai strikes with a lot of power and trying to knock out the opponent.

Fighters can also show aggression in their body language, effort, and hunger to win the fight – similar to ring and action dominance.

However, it’s also important in Muay Thai that fighters don’t show too much aggression to the point of losing composure and throwing strikes erratically which miss. Fighters who do this are marked down as it’s seen as ineffective aggression.

Effective aggression is used by the judges to determine the winner if the fighters are equal on the other three factors. Most often, effective aggression has been demonstrated through proper technique execution and dominance of the ring, which is why it’s the last criterion to be considered.

3. What Does and Doesn’t Score in Muay Thai Fights

The next step is understanding what techniques do and don’t score when regarding proper technique execution.

What scores under the Muay Thai scoring system

Judges score strikes that are accurate (landing cleanly), executed with perfect technique, and thrown with a lot of power. These same strikes score more in the eyes of the judges if they affect the opponent.

  • Knockdowns are the highest-scoring technique
  • Unbalancing an opponent with strikes (blocked or clean)
  • Causing an opponent to show physical exhaustion
  • Visibly damaging an opponent through bruising or causing them to show pain
  • Aggressive and powerful strikes
  • Clean landing strikes with kicks, punches, knees, and elbows – with more power being favored
  • Blocking an opponent’s strike with the guard or checking a leg kick – as long as posture and balance are maintained
  • Sweeping the opponent to the ground (low scoring)

As a combat sport, Muay Thai fights are kicking-heavy. This is because kicks and knees score higher in the eyes of judges, due to how they’re much more powerful than punches and elbows.

Most importantly, Muay Thai judges deem the most effective strikes as the ones which cause an opponent visible pain or exhaustion, or that unbalance them.

A fighter could be outstruck 7 to 1 but scored higher by the judges if the one strike is powerful, accurate, and causes the opponent to wince, for example, while the 7 strikes from the opponent are weak, inaccurate, and have no effect.

What doesn’t score under the Muay Thai scoring system

  • Weak strikes 
  • Strikes that hit the opponent’s arm or leg but are blocked – for example, a high guard block or a checked kick
  • Causing an opponent to fall to the floor without the use of a strike – which would generally be bundling or pushing them

4. The Unspoken Code

Understanding how the Muay Thai scoring system works also involves understanding the unspoken code applying to rounds 1 and 5, and how the judges see what unfolds. The unspoken code is part of the Muay Thai tradition and has been part of the sport since its inception.

Round 1

In round 1, fighters start slowly and go through a feeling-out process, seeing how their opponent reacts to feints and different strikes, and devising a game plan for the fight starting in round 2.

It is however an informal code and the judges ultimately score what they see. So, if there’s a big action in the first round, it’ll be scored accordingly.

However, as it’s a deeply engrained Muay Thai tradition, most fighters stick to the unspoken code and a lot of judges simply mark down the first round as a 10-10, an even round.

A big part of this first-round feeling-out process is to do with the Muay Thai betting culture, as it gives time for bettors to see both fighters and place their bets.

Round 5

The unspoken code also applies to round 5, where fighters slow down the pace as the fight has mostly been decided in rounds 2,3 and 4.

The fighter who believes they’re winning may raise their hands throughout the 5th and look to score with proper execution of defensive techniques, rather than being overly offensive and risking getting knocked out.

They decrease their attacking intensity to show dominance, and further show dominance by allowing their opponent to attack them and foiling their efforts.

The winning fighter may also offer a touch of gloves, and if the opponent accepts, this usually means they’re admitting defeat and the fifth round will have limited action.

If both fighters believe they’re winning, both will fight with limited action and may raise their hands throughout the fifth round. If the fight has been very close and both fighters are unsure of who’s winning, the fifth round may well be explosive and full of action.

Note: The unspoken code applies to traditional Muay Thai fights which are 5 rounds long. Muay Thai fights which are 3 rounds long like in ONE Championship are explosive from the get-go and different from stadium Muay Thai in Thailand.

The Bottom Line

So, ‘how does the Muay Thai scoring system work?’

The Muay Thai scoring system works by having fights judged in their entirety. Within the fight and in order of significance, judges look for proper technique execution, damage to the opponent, ring, and action dominance, and effective aggression.

Each Muay Thai promotion has its own judging nuances, which can make the Muay Thai scoring system seem hard to understand. These nuances are often differences in what the judges view most favorably, which the fighters will find out beforehand and adjust their fighting style accordingly.

A big difference is also seen between Muay Thai fights which are either 3 or 5 rounds. The 3-round fights are faster starting and the rounds are judged from the get-go, whereas the 5-round fights are affected by the unspoken code which applies to rounds 1 and 5.

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